Dualism and Materialism: Athens and Jerusalem?
Van Inwagen (Peter)
Source: Faith and Philosophy 12: 475-88, 1995
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. The thesis that dualism is a Greek import into Christianity and that the Christian hope of eternal life does not presuppose dualism has recently begun to win adherents. This paper is a defense of this thesis.
  2. One philosophical argument for dualism (that dualism best explains the phenomenon of sensuous experience) is briefly discussed and is rejected.
  3. The body of the paper addresses the relevant creedal and biblical data. The paper closes with a discussion of the question whether the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead, on which the Christian hope of eternal life is founded, presupposes dualism.

Author’s Introduction
  1. Most Christians seem to have a picture of the afterlife that can without too much unfairness be described as "Platonic." When one dies, one's body decays, and what one is, what one has been all along, an immaterial soul or mind or self, continues to exist. One then faces judgment and is "sent" to heaven or to hell.
  2. Christians who are particularly well-instructed (by current standards), will know that they are supposed to believe in something that doesn't fit this picture too well, something called the Resurrection of the Dead; if pressed, they will perhaps say that the burden of the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead is that eventually God will give everyone a body again — one of those mysterious and apparently pointless procedures for which God no doubt has some good reason that He has mercifully chosen not to bother us with (like Confirmation).
  3. This picture of the afterlife obviously presupposes Platonic or Cartesian dualism. I want to explain why I find this doctrine unsatisfactory, both as a Christian and as a philosopher. (But, as my title no doubt suggests, I'm going to have more to say about my religious difficulties with dualism. And my discussion of religious difficulties with dualism will be centered on the afterlife.)

  1. I intend these notes to be fairly brief, picking up key points of interest rather than providing a detailed commentary. I also intend to focus on the metaphysics rather than the Biblical exegesis, other than to note how the discussion of the awkward passages agrees or otherwise with accounts I’ve read in the past.
  2. I’ve no real interest in a detailed investigation of the merits of Dualism1, as I think it’s a lost cause for which I have no inclination.
  3. Peter Van Inwagen2 deals with Dualism in Chapters 10 and 11 of "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Metaphysics", ie. in:-
    "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Nature of Rational Beings: Dualism and Physicalism", and
    "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Nature of Rational Beings: Dualism and Personal Identity".
    I need to read these chapters and note the arguments. The style doesn’t seem to be as compressed or taxing as most analytical philosophy.
  4. In this paper PvI notes that “property dualism”, if it means anything at all, seems to presuppose substance dualism, which is therefore the focus of discussion.
  5. I agree with PvI that “when I look into myself” I see that I am a living animal, albeit a human one. I also agree that introducing dualism complicates matters without adding anything of value.
  6. This implies that PvI is (or was) an Animalist3 as well as a Christian Materialist4.
  7. Dualism may – as PvI points out – appear to make the appearance of qualia more “understandable”, but only because we’ve no real idea what we’re imagining when we think we’re imagining an immaterial substance. The fact that I find it difficult to imagine how “mere matter” can generate qualia doesn’t mean it’s any easier to imagine this for an immaterial substance. I might add that – by scientific investigation – we can learn more and more about the organization of “mere matter”, which may ultimately help our imaginings, but no amount of reflection on immaterial substances gets us anywhere as we’re not learning anything new.
  8. I agree that Daniel 12:2 is the first OT reference to Resurrection; Ezekiel 37 refers to the political restauration of the nation of Israel to the Land. Also, Daniel states that the dead are asleep.
  9. Saul and the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28): PvI thinks – and I agree – that this is an awkward passage for Christians, whether dualists or materialists: would a necromancer really have the power to summon up Samuel from the dead?
  10. PvI notes that – while not being a textbook of metaphysics – the NT was composed in a world in which metaphysics was “in the air”. Greek metaphysical speculation – PvI thinks – was behind the question Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians: 155 concerning the specifics of the resurrection of the dead. How’s it supposed to work?
  11. PvI thinks 1 Corinthians: 156 is the only passage in the NT that addresses the issue. He quotes verses 36-45 as most relevant. I’m addressing the whole passage in the Note just linked to, so won’t try to expound it here, but just focus on the points PvI thinks are important.
  12. He addresses verse 37. What is sown isn’t the body that will be (resurrected) but a “naked kernel” (kokkos7).
  13. PvI thinks it’s wrong to assume that what’s meant by the “naked kernel” is the Platonic soul, which is variously clothed with the old body and then the resurrection body, on the grounds that (the adjective from) psuche is used of that which dies, and represents the “Adamic” life, in contrast to the spiritual (pneuma) life that animates the resurrection body.
  14. I’m not sure what either “life” is supposed to be. I can’t speculate on spiritual life, but we don’t want to be committed to any sort of vitalism where animal (including human animal) life is concerned. See my note on Life8.
  15. PvI now has an interesting paragraph on “body9” (soma). He doesn’t want it to be understood in the “strict Cartesian sense”. He points out that while even a contemporary analytic philosopher might loosely speak of a BIV10 as “not having a body”, strictly speaking the BIV is11 that person’s body.
  16. So, a Cartesian could claim that a person never lacks a body in the “strict Cartesian sense”, because the “naked kernel” – whatever that might turn out to be – would be that body.
  17. I’m not sure whether PvI goes along with this. Does he think that the “naked kernel” is a physical thing – something like a Luz bone12?
  18. PvI thinks that Paul doesn’t use soma in the strict Cartesian sense. So – I presume – he doesn’t treat the naked kernel as the person’s residual body (as the Cartesian view of the BIV would be) but as … what? He thinks that it will be ‘clothed’ with spiritual (but material) flesh and will have spiritual (but material) blood in its spiritual (but material) veins. So “flesh and blood” does inherit the kingdom of God, according to PvI, but it’s new flesh (and blood) that does so.
  19. I’m not sure whether this is a necessary doctrine for a Christian Materialist, but I still have a question about the role played by the ‘naked kernel’. Is it a necessary component for assuring the identity of the pre-and post-resurrection person? If so, does it persist into resurrection life, and is it of the appropriate spiritual material?
  20. All this seems to ignore any “seed” symbolism. The plant grows out of the seed, and uses some of the seed’s material. Is this relevant to resurrection by any sort of analogy?
  21. PvI’s final footnote states that the paper was originally read at “the Notre Dame conference on the Philosophy of Mind”. I don’t know anything more about this, but it’s surprising that so much Biblical exegesis could appear in a philosophy conference. It wouldn’t happen in the UK, other than at a theology college on a specifically “religious” topic (like Religion and Naturalism13, Heythrop College, 12 July 2010). However, University of Notre Dame has an explicitly Catholic ethos, though much of its research and teaching is secular. It’s noted that the conference was repeated for the Society of Christian Philosophers, and all those identified as commenting appear to be Christians.
  22. I see that Dean Zimmerman was the commentator, so maybe his response was a warm-up for the exchange:-
    "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Christians Should Reject Mind-Body Dualism"
    "Zimmerman (Dean) - Christians Should Affirm Mind-Body Dualism",
    → and further replies.
  23. William Hasker and Daniel Howard-Snyder are thanked for questions and comments.


Obtained from Van Inwagen - Dualism and Materialism: Athens and Jerusalem?.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: Hereafter “PvI”.

Footnote 7: Footnote 11: Footnote 12: Footnote 13:

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